Sophie Cruz drawingLike many others, I’ve been following the Pope’s visit to our nation’s capital and was deeply moved yesterday as I watched him beckon and hug 5-year-old Sophie Cruz, the U.S. citizen daughter of undocumented immigrants who traveled to DC to deliver an important message to the Pope. In her letter she writes, “I would like to ask you to speak with the president and the Congress in legalizing my parents because every day I am scared that one day they will take them away from me.” In her request, she calls for the President’s executive actions to move forward, including the stalled Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program, and for Congress to pass immigration reform.

Sophie represents over 5 million children currently living in mixed-status families who are impacted every day by our nation’s immigration laws. Not only do they live with the constant fear of possibly losing a parent as a result of immigration enforcement, but they also face the hardships that come with being part of a mixed-status family. Two reports released this past week by the Migration Policy Institute and the Urban Institute document the long-term harm to children who have lost a parent to detention or deportation as well as the many barriers that prevent children in mixed-status families from accessing critical social services. At a time when there is so much uncertainty regarding the future of immigration policy, we must not forget that children like Sophie are left living in limbo.

Immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship is the only permanent solution for the millions of mixed-status families living in the United States. But the immigration executive actions announced by the President last November, currently stalled in the courts, would be a huge step forward for children and families by providing an opportunity for the undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and lawfully permanent residents to lawfully reside in the country and obtain more stable employment to better support their families. It would mean Sophie would no longer have to worry about her parents being taken away from her, and she could focus instead on doing well in school, playing with her friends, and just being a kid.

Today as Pope Francis addressed Congress, he echoed Sophie’s message when he called on our nation’s leaders to remember that like him, many are also the descendants of immigrants and highlighted the need to respond to with compassion to both the Syrian refugee crisis as well as the plight of immigrants and refugees already in the U.S.:

Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation.

The Pope also went beyond immigration to address critical issues that also have an impact on children, including the need to protect the environment and to address poverty. He stressed the need for leaders to work together for the common good and to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” His call to “relate to others” is urgently needed at a time that our nation is becoming both more diverse and more politically divided. In fact, his message of tolerance, mercy, and inclusion reminded me of the drawing that Sophie included in her letter to the Holy Father, where she states, “my friends and I love each other despite the color of our skin.”

It is my hope that our nation’s leaders reflect on the Pope’s words and heed his call to build a better world for those he stated time and again were the “most important:” our children.

Pope Francis, Sophie Cruz, and a Message to Our Nation’s Leaders: v/ @First_Focus @WendyDC5
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Want to learn more? First Focus is a bipartisan advocacy organization dedicated to making children and families the priority in federal policy and budget decisions. Read more about the work of the First Focus Center for the Children of Immigrants.

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